Flyby Imagines: What Faust Might Write About the HUDS Barilla Boycott

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Earlier this week, we learned that Harvard University Dining Services will stop serving Barilla pasta in Harvard dining halls after Barilla’s chairman Guido Barilla told an Italian radio station that his company would never feature a gay family in its advertising.

With its decision to boycott the company's pasta products for the foreseeable future, Harvard will no longer be a source of revenue for Barilla. This almost sounds like divestment, and we all know that divestment is kind of a big deal. In fact, the University has recently reaffirmed its anti-divestment stance with respect to its investments in the fossil fuel industry, a controversial move provoking varied reactions.

While we at Flyby are fairly certain that President Faust does not know or care much about the matter of Barilla divestment, we wondered what it might look like to reframe her recent letter justifying the University's stance on fossil fuels and apply her language to the Barilla issue.

Here's what we came up with:

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

Barilla pasta’s advertising strategy represents one of the world’s most consequential challenges. I very much respect the concern and commitment shown by the many members of our community who are working to confront this problem.

While I share their belief in the importance of addressing Barilla pasta, I do not believe, nor do my colleagues on the Corporation, that a university boycott is warranted or wise.

We should be clear-sighted about the risks that boycotting Barilla pasta could pose to HUDS’ capacity to propel our important research and teaching mission. Significantly constraining pasta options risks significantly constraining dining satisfaction.

Barilla pasta provides more than one-third of the pasta we distribute to University dining halls each year. Its nutritional value and texture are crucial to our institutional ambitions—to the support we can offer students and faculty, to the intellectual opportunities we can provide, to the research we can advance.

Universities represent a very small of Barilla's pasta sales. If we and others were to stop purchasing, that pasta would no doubt find other willing buyers.

Boycotting is likely to have negligible financial impact on Barilla pasta. And such a strategy would diminish the influence or voice we might have with this industry. Boycotting pits concerned diners and institutions against companies that have enormous capacity and responsibility to promote progress toward a more fibrous future.

Harvard has a strong interest in marshaling its academic resources to help meet society’s most important and vexing challenges, and there is no question that Barilla pasta’s marketing strategy must be prominent among them.  We will continue to do so, through the energy and ideas of our faculty, students, and staff, in ways that are true to the purposes of our pasta consumption and that best take advantage of the University’s distinctive capacities as an academic institution.

Sincerely,
Drew Faust

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